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University of Pittsburgh

November 11, 2004

OBITUARY: William E. (Ed) Wallace

William E. (Ed) Wallace, Distinguished Service Professor emeritus of chemistry and pre-eminent scientist during a 47-year career at Pitt, died Oct. 28, 2004, of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 87.

Wallace was a renowned expert in intermetallic chemistry, a beloved classroom instructor, an expert departmental administrator, a mentor for research colleagues and young faculty and a visionary who shaped the future of his department, colleagues said.

Wallace came to Pitt as a graduate student, earning his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1941. He joined the chemistry department faculty and then was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project. Wallace returned to his faculty position in 1945 and remained until his retirement in 1983.

Wallace served as Department of Chemistry chair from 1963 to 1977, according to W. Richard Howe, associate dean of Arts and Sciences and former assistant chair in the chemistry department. “This period represented the greatest growth spurt for the department,” Howe said.

Former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jerome L. Rosenberg recalled, “As chairman in the late 1960s, Ed wrote the chemistry section of a proposal to the National Science Foundation to create a Center of Excellence in the physical sciences at Pitt.” The chemistry segment of the NSF grant expanded the department’s activities in spectroscopy and synthetic organic chemistry of biological compounds, and aided in the recruitment of world-class scientists, three of whom were later elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Rosenberg said.

Wallace was instrumental in securing funding that enabled the department in 1974 to move from seven disparate campus locations into a new state-of-the-art, 200,000 sq. ft. science facility, now named the Chevron Science Center.

“His early research was experimental work in classical thermochemistry and thermodynamics applied to intermetallic systems,” Rosenberg said. “This opus led to a systematic study of intermetallic compounds involving the rare earth elements.”

Wallace turned his attention to the study of these elements and their compounds with other metals. He referred to these new compounds as rare earth intermetallics, a phrase that later served as the title of one of his books.

In conjunction with colleague Raymond Craig and a research team, Wallace synthesized and characterized approximately 200 new rare earth intermetallic compounds. This class of intermetallics made possible a new generation of electric motors that were twice as energy efficient and had a 10-fold increase in torque over that of conventional equipment of comparable size.

As a world leader in what became a multinational activity, Wallace was recognized in 1979 as the first recipient of the Frank H. Spedding Award for Creative Rare Earth Research.

In 1953 Wallace was selected as one of Pittsburgh’s 100 Outstanding Young Men. He was the recipient of a 1954 Guggenheim Award (Sweden), the 1973 Pittsburgh Award from the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Chemical Society and the 1983 Edward Morley Award of the Cleveland section of the American Chemical Society.

Wallace was named a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990, and he was selected as a member of the inaugural class of Alumni of Distinction for his home department at Pitt in 2000.

During his years at Pitt, Wallace proved to be equally skilled at teaching and administration.

“He was a marvelous classroom instructor,” said Arts and Sciences’ Howe. “His ability to explain complex chemical phenomena in terms that were understandable, combined with his genuine interest in his students, drew large numbers of students to his sections year after year.”

After retiring from Pitt in 1983, Wallace founded and served for 10 years as president of Advanced Materials Corp., a company that continues to explore commercial applications for his interests in light-weight and energy-efficient motors, high-energy permanent magnets and hydrogen storage materials for use in alternative fuel systems.

Following his Pitt tenure, Wallace also became a professor of applied science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, an association that continued into the 1990s.

Wallace published four books and more than 560 scientific articles in professional journals.

A Mississippi native, Wallace received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Mississippi College in 1936 at age 19.

Wallace is survived by his wife, Helen, of Ross; a daughter, Marcia, of Chandler, Ariz.; and sons Richard of Middletown, Pa., and Donald of Harrisburg.

Filed under: Feature, Volume 37 Issue 6

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